Dennis Jones is a Jamaican-born international economist, who has lived most of the time in the UK and USA, and latterly in Guinea, west Africa. He moved back to the Caribbean in 2007. This blog contains his observations on life on this small eastern Caribbean island, as well as views on life and issues on a broader landscape, especially the Caribbean and Africa.







**You may contact me by e-mail at livinginbarbados[at]gmail[dot]com**

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Changes in the wind?

It's interesting to try to see changes in the social, economic, and political landscape. As a commentator on such issues, I am admittedly a neophyte, so I will tread warily. Today, I note two events that I think could have important repercussions.

The first issue is the dismissal of the acting head of Barbados' Sanitation Services Authority (SSA), Stanton Alleyne, and "documents pertaining to his dismissal handed over to the Director of Public Prosecutions" (see report in the Nation).

Immediate reactions on the part of
employees of the SSA to the dismissal of their head was to park trucks and put down their tools. This morning the workers will be informed by the National Union of Public Workers, what level of industrial action would be taken.

At the heart of the dismissal is suspicion of wrong doing and possible conflicts of interest at least, which involve businessman Andrew Thomas of Andrew Builders--who asked that the authorities investigate the relationship between his company and SSA. As reported, the Attorney General's office is "in receipt of copies of two cheques issued to [Mr. Alleyne] on the 19th of March 1999 and on the 8th of April 1999 from a company having a contractual relationship with the SSA, and that these cheques were subsequently drawn by him."

I want to tie this dismissal to news that the government will table by August draft legislation on integrity legislation as well as a Freedom of Information Act and Defamation Act; the hope is to put them to Parliament by end-2008 or early 2009. The Democratic Labour Party (DLP) had promised during the election campaign that in government it would take new legislation in these areas to Parliament within 100 days of being elected. I'm not going into that piece of political puffing, but now look to see if this will be a serious attempt to change something seriously lacking in the public life of Barbados. Integrity legislation should make clear the responsibilities and duties of ministers and public officials and moniter their integrity and accountability. A Freedom of Information Act should allow citizens access to much (most?) information, excluding matters of national security and specific personal information. A Defamation Act would hopefully get some clarity into issues related to freedom of expression (see summary comments) and maybe encourage journalists here to open up debate on important issues rather than ducking for cover at the threat of being sued.

From what I have seen and heard in 18 months here, public life is a bit of a free-for-all, or maybe "free from accountability for those in office", with little real sense that ministers and public officials have a clear idea of what integrity means or how they should be accountable to the electorate and the public. Amongst the local bloggers, Barbados Free Press (BFP), has been trying to kick life into this issue--cutely acronomyized as ITAL--but holds out little hope that this will be more than another piece of fooling most of the people most of the time (see BFP blog post). I take a different view, believing that fundamental changes such as these pieces of legislation will represent cannot, and should not, be the things that get rushed into play, just to confirm some electoral promise. But, I also hope that Bajans are getting ready to hold a government's and its public servants' feet to the fire, or to fire their ******, good and proper.

The second issue is an interesting and initially disconnected play on accountability and integrity, in the broader game of political football. It is today's opinion column in the Nation by political commentator Peter Wickham, entitled provocatively "Welcome, Clyde" (see article). Now, there is no veiling what Mr. Wickham thinks of Mr. Clyde Mascoll. First, there is the quick sharp elbow of faint praise, just after kick off, as the ball is being stroked around in midfield:

"Mascoll's intellect was clearly one of his more attractive characteristics."

Then, with nothing less than a period, the first gentle kick in the groin:

"He has, however, since thrown himself into the political environment and his record has been less than stellar in this regard."

But just as the trainer has used the cold sponge to dull the pain, and in case you got the impression that this leg was not seeking to please the home crowd, we smell a dogfight brewing. When discussing Mr. Mascoll's rise up the ladder of one (opposition) political party and his subsequent flip over to the ruling party, in comes Mr. Wickham with two hard but Gattuso-like legal tackles that send Mr. Mascoll crashing to the turf:

"... Mascoll ... sought to identify persons like myself suggesting we were biased and indeed unintelligent because we did not see things his way. Secure in the knowledge that he was right and armed with the advice of those who told him what he wanted to hear... Mascoll awaited what was the final assault from Thompson and thereafter still did not appreciate that his political future was better secured within the DLP. Hence instead of negotiating, he, to everyone's surprise, crossed the floor to become one of the chief architects of the same BLP policies that he was critical of a few weeks prior."

Finally, to close out the home leg:

"We will perhaps never know what prompted Mascoll to cross the floor, however history has demonstrated that he made a fundamental political error. Today he is a former junior minister in the BLP administration, while few would disagree that he could have just as easily been the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance in a young DLP administration, with the prospect of becoming the Gordon Brown of Barbados.

Mascoll will find it difficult to defend his past political judgement and for this reason one would have assumed he would be seen as a liability to the BLP. Notwithstanding, he has now emerged as the "chosen one" yet again and it will be interesting to follow his political and economic logic over the weeks and months ahead."

Some welcome that. A clear victory for Wickham in the first leg.

If you are not aware of why the ex-Minister is again the "chosen one" you will have to read his weekly columns, which have now started to appear in the Nation. I have a feeling that we are going to see some sparks flying in the next leg on the editorial pages and on the radio airwaves. We may see no clear winner and should get ready for a long penalty shoot-out with perhaps a nervy series of hard shots, with good saves, and some good goals in coming weeks and months. Game on!

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